THE DUST BOWL chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, in which the frenzied wheat boom of the “Great Plow-Up,” followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation.
Vivid interviews with 26 survivors of those hard times, combined with dramatic photographs and seldom seen movie footage, bring to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance. It is also a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us—a lesson we ignore at our peril.
Texans and the Dust Bowl
What was the Dust Bowl like for Texans? We chronicle the stories of four Dust Bowl survivors who describe life in the Panhandle during the 1930s.
Memories of Black Sunday
There were many dust storms in the 1930s but one storm in 1935 still lingers in the minds of those who witnessed it. The storm that hit on April 14, 1935 was darker and blacker than other storms that year. It prompted journalists to name this beautiful farm land, the nation’s bread basket — the Dust Bowl.
“As I remember it, it was not a straight wind it was a rolling cloud of black dirt,” said one eyewitness.
Also, known as a black duster it began on a beautiful Sunday perfect for picnics.
“We stood and watched it awhile, the closer it got the blacker and bigger it got,” said Pearl Sowers. “So we all ran to the cellar. We could tell it hit by the sounds.”
There was no light and no one had any idea what was going on. The men had gone rabbit hunting and were lost.
“Just walking around in the room we had to cover our noses,” said Lawrence.
“We had lots of dust storms but there wasn’t any that were black and roaring like that when it came in.”
People described this storm like a black blizzard. The black blizzard that day was caused by a polar air mass the static electricity lifted the dirt thousands of feet in the air, temperatures dripped suddenly and the winds reached 60 miles per hour.
View more eye witness accounts in this special 30-minute documentary about Black Sunday.
About the Making of the Dust Bowl Documentary
The stories of Texas panhandle families provide a great backdrop for the new Ken Burns film Dust Bowl, which airs on Texas PBS Stations Nov. 18-19 (check local listings.)
Ken Burns and his team made several trips to Amarillo and surrounding areas to capture the stories of the Texas plains. As an added bonus to the national series, KACV in Amarillo produced three additional television programs to capture the making of the national documentary and Memories of Black Sunday.
A Conversation with Ken Burns
A Conversation with Timothy Egan, author of The Worst Hard Times, which the Burns film used as a resource.